Roma Village, Tirgu Mures 2004-2006

ali cleary all rights reserved to the artist

Portraits taken of Roma children in Transylvania 2004-2006


In the summers of 2004- 2006 I had the pleasure & privilege to volunteer with 'ARC', Aid for Romanian Children in the Carpathian bowl of Transylvania, Romania. ARC supported Roma children living on the fringes of society, specifically a Roma shanty village situated on the edge of the main highway between Bucharest & Budapest & the town of Tirgu mures. The society already felt taught with tension as the area had been fought over between Romanians & Hungarians for the past 800 years, houses painted green were known to be Hungarian, yet, it seemed that the historic tensions were united & directed at the Roma.

We helped to supply clothing, hot food twice weekly & gave the children an opportunity to play. Three summer camps were lead, where the children had the opportunity to get clothed, fed properly & allowed them the opportunity to play, engage in activities.. I had never worked with children before & I remember how terrified I was, yet now I understand how much the experience made me, their vibrancy of life against all odds & their complete lack of material value, the Roma & the experience have informed much of my present creative & educational intentions. The children were the most spirited, colourful, fearless & alive human animals I have ever met, the richness of their heritage, their spirit, culture, tradition, intrigue, music, dance & magic seeped from them. They were in abject poverty & accustomed to daily prejudice & racism, yet their spirit rich in resilience, & heart.


Only the Roma men were offered any work & the only work they were allowed was to clean the streets at night so they wouldn't be seen, with little hope for a future & very little choice for the families, most made up life from what they could. They sent the children begging, odd jobs & the lower classed families of the village sold their own clothes just for something to eat. The whole experience taught me so much & was like viewing a microcosm of all societal structures, for we are only what society makes us. Our environmental, family, cultural & societal conditioning has always been of interest to me & the experience led me to explore my own conditioning, nurture versus nature has always been of strong interest due to me being adopted & has informed much of my work.


I was extremely lucky & flattered to exhibit some of the works in 2005 at The Roxy Art House, Edinburgh alongside the opening of one of Britain's most prestigious documentary photographer's 'Don McCullin'. This was my first exhibition, & happened as a matter of serendipity. I was more than honoured to display works in the space beside his 'Life Interupted' series, representing AIDS/HIV victims & the disease in Africa, however the experience taught me about how documentary photographic projects were received in the more image saturated society we were becoming, through invigilating the month long exhibit, it gave me the space & time to reflect on my time in Romania, the nature & role that documentary photography now plays within society. I started to question the integrity of 'modern' journalism, documentary & also the photographer's role to represent others from their own view point. The whole experience changed my intended career path & the way in which I approached photography. I do come from an idealistic yet realistic standpoint & had naively gone into photography in the hope I could 'make a difference' in some way, the theoretical nature of my study, my experience volunteering & exhibiting my first documentary inextricably changed my direction, starting my investigation into the healing, educational & empowering qualities of photography.

I spent several years & my final year dissertation exploring, & researching ways in which photography & lens based medias have helped empower, inspire, support & heal individuals & collectives across the world. Photography is a medium of magic: philosophical, scientific, technological, historical, cultural, societal, environmental, educational, theoretical, psychological, spiritual, methodical, & fun, its is a medium that can delve into any manner of subject. It is a privilege & a power, it allows a a window into any manner of subject, experience. It has helped me through many a personal & at times very difficult experiences, a manner of communication with yourself through its reflective nature & the relationship I now have to the medium. 



ali cleary all rights reserved to the artist
the freshness & fierceness of spirit the Roma showed me awoke my own
— ali cleary